The gift of charity

How kids and their schools contribute to causes during the holiday

In the spirit of the season …

That phrase is the way many appeals for helping the needy start out this time of year. After the bounty of Thanksgiving, the rest of the holiday season can be stark for those who need aid to get by. In South Jersey, ways to provide that aid are plentiful.

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Among them is the Harrison Township School District’s Explorer Giving Project. Two of the township’s schools – Harrison Township Elementary and Pleasant Valley – will have boxes for donations from students, staff and parents. The request is for $100 gift cards from Target or Walmart for 130 children, according to township Mayor Lou Manzo.

But the annual fundraiser is not just about money; it is also a “teaching tool,” Manzo says, that introduces kids to the idea of giving so that they learn characteristics to take into adulthood: Kindness. Compassion. Generosity. Self-esteem. Gratitude. 

Children as young as 3 to 5 years old can learn basic concepts of giving, writes Aurora Simon, a personal development blogger, such as donating toys and clothes. As they age, they may want to choose their own causes and can be encouraged to raise funds or collect donations. Parents can suggest community volunteerism and expose their kids to social issues that affect those in need. Teenagers, Simon notes, are old enough to take a leadership role and might want to start their own fundraising campaigns.

Within the organized structure of schools, about $1.5 billion was raised for charity this year, according to Jason Firch, founder of Nonprofits Source, a Maryland-based search engine that helps nonprofits grow their own online presence. About 50% of the country’s public schools have at least one donor appeal on their sites. 

Christmas is a rich time for fundraising. According to the National Association of Nonprofit Organizations and Executives, nearly one-third of annual giving happens in December, with the last three days accounting for about 12% of yearly donations. About 28% of nonprofits raise as much as half of their funding in the last month of the year.

Outside of school, how can parents get their children involved in charity? Start with something simple, advises circleacts.org, an international philanthropy-focused portal that focuses on education about the giving sector. Do something in the community as a family, like bringing water or other supplies to those who need it. Groups like Toys for Tots and Habitat for Humanity are always looking for help.

The site also suggests encouraging children to think about how their actions affect others. One way they can learn that is by participating in an activity they enjoy, like reading or sports. 

“By instilling lifelong values of giving in your children,” Simon emphasizes, “you are not only helping them become socially responsible adults, but also creating a happier and more fulfilling life for them.”

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